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Triassic Parq

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Triassic Parq
Brandon Espinoza and Alex Wyse.
Photo by Carol Rosegg

Think of it as a premise encased in amber. An island where humans use convoluted scientific experiments to bring dinosaurs back to life slowly but surely falls prey to the very creatures they were so sure they could control, but get this! we see it all from the reptiles' perspective. It sounds brilliant, right? Especially given that the story on which it's obviously based, as previously immortalized on both page and screen, took itself so seriously that parodying its inherent improbability is basic common sense? Yet despite the idea's essential genius, the theatre piece resulting from it, Triassic Parq: The Musical, is a snoozer.

It doesn't take much digging to find the reason: Writers Marshall Pailet (book, music, and lyrics) and Bryce Norbitz and Stephen Wargo (book and lyrics) are more interested in using fun only as a launching pad than in maintaining it throughout. After establishing what's going on, with the help of narrator Morgan Freeman (a darkly deadpan Lee Seymour), they dissolve into a plot that not only has nothing to do with their source material, but is presented, acted, and directed (by Pailet) with such stiff-necked pomposity that it's like they're daring you to not laugh. And it's strangely easy to oblige them.

The dinosaurs become fixated on the key biological quirk that's always driven the action's tension. Specifically that, despite all the creatures being engineered as female (to prevent breeding), males have started appearing among the population and reproducing with potentially cataclysmic results. Most of the narrative, then, is anchored on the question of who will find themselves and their callings (living or otherwise) before biology takes over and they're forced to reconsider the only existences (and genders) they've ever known.

In other words, Triassic Parq is little more than a raunchy sex comedy with a prehistoric twist. That's slight enough as it is, but piling on questions of morality and existence's relationships to both science and religion (in the most frequent running gag, every speaker says the word "lab" instead of the word "God"), makes it overly top-heavy and keeps it from being entertaining in all but the most oblique ways. And with no humans around to provide a visible threat, the show and its characters rapidly become so self-concerned that you feel you're watching it from, well, behind a 50-foot-high electrical fence.

A talented cast does what it can, led by the wide-eyed and big-voiced Alex Wyse, who plays the "Velociraptor of Innocence" destined to learn facts about herself and her kind that may destroy everyone on the island. Wade McCollum, as the shaman-like leader of the Triassic tribe, and Lindsay Nicole Chambers (late of Lysistrata Jones), playing her rational-minded foil, bring impressive commitment (if only semi-straight faces) to their impossible roles. The company is effectively rounded out by Shelley Thomas and Claire Neumann as two super-tight T-Rex buddies, and Brandon Espinoza as the speech-less Mime-a-saurus.

The fervent efforts of choreographer Kyle Mullins, scenic designer Caite Hevner, and costume designer Dina Perez give the evening a distinct look and feel that match the witless score's evocation of a surreal 1980s music video, but what any of it has to do with the dinosaurs or their troubles is never clear. With their work, as with everything else here, you feel as though you're seeing a lot, but none of it stands out in any definable way. That's understandable: In the books and movies that spawned this musical, the scaly setup was always the star. But it dims when, unlike in the original sources, it doesn't grow beyond its one-sentence summary.

In the two years since it premiered at the Fringe Festival (with a title more closely resembling Michael Crichton's), Triassic Parq has lost one of its writers and gained some clarity, but not enough. Freeman makes a big deal of explaining the title in the opening scene: "What does the 'q' stand for, you ask? Simple. It stands... for 'truth.'" Uh, okay. But given what's onstage now, it seems like the authors might need to spend another 230 million years or so figuring out exactly what that and the point of the evening are supposed to be.


Triassic Parq
Through August 5
SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street (6th Ave & Varick / 7th Avenue)
Running Time: 85 minutes with no intermission
Tickets and current performance schedule at www.triassicparq.com